Google is testing 11 variations of black links in search results

Google frequently makes changes to its search results pages in order to improve the user experience. Contributor Sergey Alakov has collected examples of what appears to be Google’s latest test: replacing blue links with black ones in the user interface.

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Want more links? Be more likable.

Wondering why you aren’t getting as many links as you think you should? Columnist Julie Joyce covers why being likable really can lead to links.

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Stop oversimplifying everything!

The old days of gaming Google’s ranking algorithm are over, but columnist Eric Enge notes that many SEO professionals haven’t moved on yet.

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Making martech usable

Columnist Justin Dunham is a big champion of marketing technology, but succeeding with martech requires more than just selecting the right tools — after all, tools only work if there’s good process and culture already behind them.

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Are You Being Difficult? How the “Hidden Work” in Your Onboarding Emails Kills New User Engagement (And What You Should Do About It)

Have you ever tried to take apart a high-end file cabinet?

We’re talking about the kind built with such thoughtful design that it makes a room look like the “after” shot on an HG-TV home makeover show…instead of the dingy unfinished basement “before” shot.

If you have, you know that taking apart a cabinet like this one is no easy feat.
You have to pull out the drawers, crawl inside, and poke and prod all afternoon.

After 3 hours of guessing, you might give up. Or you might press on until you finally crack the code on how it’s built–and then marvel at its brilliance.

You either walk away defeated. Or you finish your project and exclaim that the designer behind it is actually a genius.

What does high-end furniture have to do with your SaaS app?

You may have built the best, most genius, most user-friendly app that completely blows all of the other apps out of the water.

But if you hide your app’s brilliant usability behind opaque instructions, you might lose your new users before they even have a chance to get started.

How do you bring your app into the light? You need to get rid of the “hidden work” in your onboarding emails.

Hidden work is the work you unintentionally create for your new users when you send them onboarding emails that don’t give enough information for readers to do what you’re asking them to do.

Onboarding emails that eliminate hidden work are the difference between new users giving up on your app–and declaring that it’s actually genius.

If you’re already sending triggered emails to free trial users based on who they are and how they use your app, great. If you want anyone to actually stick with you, your onboarding emails need to clear a path from your new users’ inbox to the task you’re asking them to accomplish. Any resistance you add decreases the likelihood your new users will engage with your app both now–and every time you ask them to do something in the future.

According to a study published by Nobuhiro Hagura, Patrick Haggard, and Jörn Diedrichsen out of University College London, we decide whether we’re going to do something based on whether the task at hand seems easy AND based on whether we’ve faced resistance when we’ve performed similar tasks in the past.

“…we demonstrate that the motor cost involved in responding to a visual classification task is integrated into the perceptual decision process. Our everyday perceptual decisions seem to be solely based on the incoming sensory input. They may be, however, influenced by the preceding history of physical cost of responding to such input. The cost of our own actions, learned through the life-long experience of interacting with the environment, may partly define how we make perceptual decisions of our surroundings.

What does this mean for you?

It means that if the first few interactions new users have with your app feel like work, you’re risking two unwanted outcomes:

  1. Your user decides to do nothing today.
  2. The next time they see your name in their inbox, they might already be programmed to think that your app = work, and so they decide to do nothing again.

Eliminating Hidden Work: The 3 Questions Your Onboarding Emails Need to Answer for Your Readers

No matter what you do, you can’t reduce the amount of new user work to zero–nor should you.

In fact, Nir Eyal’s research on habit formation suggests that the work customers invest upfront in learning to use a new tool increases the likelihood that using it will become a habit over time. When we invest our time or other resources in something, we value it more and are therefore less likely to walk away from it. Behavioral psychologists and economists call this “the endowment effect“.

That’s why your goal isn’t to eliminate all work from learning to use a new app. Instead, you need to make sure you’re eliminating the hidden work that you create when you don’t give your readers the ability and motivation to act. According to BJ Fogg’s Behavioral Model, ability and motivation are 2 of the 3 ingredients your new user needs to complete a task. The third is a trigger.

Your email tool sends the trigger. Your email copy provides the ability and motivation.

To make sure you have all 3 ingredients in your onboarding strategy, your email copy needs to answer these 3 questions for your new users.

Question #1: “Where do I do this?”

Imagine you’re lost in the middle of the woods. You meet a fellow hiker and ask where the closest shelter is. He replies, “Oh you just go find the trail and follow it. It’s simple!”

Only you don’t know whether you should head north or west. You don’t know if it’s a 10 minute walk or a 2 day trek.

If you’re stuck in the woods, you keep going because….you’re lost in the woods! But if you’re learning a new app, you might give up. You might try a competitor’s tool instead. You might decide that learning the app is more work than the problem the app solves.

Your new users can and will give up when things get difficult. That’s why you need to provide a crystal clear path forward for your new user to complete the task at hand. You can do this by joining the conversation happening in their head.

Your reader is asking, “Where do I do this?”

Your onboarding emails need to say, “Go here to do this.”

This means actually linking to the in-app page where users can do the thing you’re asking them to do.

Unfortunately, onboarding emails frequently fall short of this goal. Take a look at this email:

I’ve drawn red outlines around all of the places where this email asks its readers to do something without showing them where to do it.

This email asks its readers to do at least 8 things in at least 3 places (it’s hard to tell for sure), but there is not a single link or screenshot to make it easy for readers to do anything at all. When you force a reader to figure out where to go next, you create work. When you create work, you create enough resistance for users to give up and do nothing.

The Fix: Point your reader to their next click

When I began but didn’t finish the signup process for a free trial of Privy, I got this email.

Instead of telling me all the different things that I’ll be able to do with Privy, this email is focused exclusively on getting me to complete the setup process–and it shows me exactly where to click in this email to make that happen.

The button is clearly labeled and centrally positioned. If I’m unsure how to install Privy code on my site, I can click the link that matches my platform and get more instructions.

Not only does this email show me where to go next but it also gives me support links easily marked so I know which one is right for me.

Question #2: “How do I do this?”

The new Customer Engagement Automation tool (CEA) from Kissmetrics gives you the analytics to help you figure out what people are doing and whether they might need help–but analytics alone don’t close sales. It’s up to you to combine analytics with copywriting to send emails that make it easy for readers to do what you’re asking them to do.

When I signed up for a job posting app, I got an email with the subject line: “Would you like to post a job on [platform name redacted]?” Unfortunately, I opened it and saw that there were no instructions on how to actually post a job.

This email pulls a bait and switch. The subject line asks if I want to post a job, but the body copy doesn’t show me how.

Sure, it might be helpful to show me how to write job descriptions, but writing job descriptions and posting job descriptions are not the same thing.

Maybe one day I might need help making my post public instead of a draft, but that’s not the messaging I need to hear before I’ve actually posed the job description.

Since I still haven’t posted a job I need someone to show me how to do that first.

The Answer: Provide all of the info on HOW to complete tasks in the email (or one clear click away)

One of my all-time favorite examples is this email from video hosting and analytics company Wistia.

It’s a powerful tool, but you can’t do anything with it until you upload your first video. Fittingly, this onboarding email doesn’t say, “Hey, having trouble getting the analytics on your videos?” before I’ve uploaded my first video.

Instead, it says: Here is step 1. Just do step 1. Here’s a link to do it, here’s a video that will show you how to do it, and here are some links for support if you need it.

This email asks me to do just one thing, shows me how, and gives me ways to get help if I can’t get it done on my own.

Just how powerful is eliminating the hidden work of figuring out how to do something? This email and the other 7 in its sequence (authored by the team behind Copyhackers and Airstory) generated a 350% lift in paid conversions for Wistia.

Question #3: “Why should I bother?”

Someone at book club last week brought up webinars. The conversation went like this:

Friend 1: I had to do this webinar for work.

Friend 2: Uuuuugh webinars. I hate them so much.

Friend 3: Oh I love webinars! I love chatting in the margins. I love the buzz.

You can offer training through webinars, help articles, live demos, on-demand demos, or support videos. But whatever support medium you choose, you’re guaranteed to choose a medium that feels like “work” to some of your new users.

If your new user isn’t signing in because they don’t know how to use your app and the only support you offer them is with webinar invitations, then you’re asking them to do work–and increasing the likelihood they’ll bail.

Additionally, scheduled training forces your reader to consult a calendar in order to learn from you–and context-switching gives them a chance to decide not to come back.

You might have really great stuff in your webinars! But if you don’t explain what’s in it for your reader, it feels like work. And if it feels like all work and no gain, your best prospects won’t do it.

The Fix: Focus on the outcome, not the delivery

The truth is that a webinar is a big commitment and you won’t keep everyone. 60, 30, or even 20 minutes is a lot of time to give up. But even small amounts of time and seemingly small asks can be just as inconvenient to your readers without the right context.

Anne commented on another Kissmetrics copywriting post and she’s right: even simple CTAs sound like work.

To overcome the objections that your readers will inevitably have to taking you up on your offer of support or the small task you ask them to do, your email copy shouldn’t position the medium or the task you’re asking users to complete as the benefit.

Instead, you should answer one of the biggest questions on your readers’ minds:

“So what?”

You want your readers to attend a webinar? So what? What’s in it for them?

You want your new users to start a project? Why should they bother?

Your support channels are like your app’s features: your customers care way less about them than you do. They’re much more interested in the benefits of your app and your support. If you want your prospects to respond to your webinar invitation or to do anything else in your app, stress benefits, not features.

How? Focus on the outcomes your readers can expect as a result of taking you up on your invitation.

Here’s an example from Sumo that positions a webinar as a must-attend event:

This email has everything: 1. Specific results someone got in a specific period of time. 2. Growth techniques I won’t find anywhere else (which means if I don’t show up, I won’t get them). 3. Specifics about what I’m going to get from this webinar. 4. Urgency and scarcity.

In this email, the value is the information on how to grow your business–the webinar is merely the delivery mechanism.

Why Eliminating “Work Words” Isn’t Enough

I’ll be honest: I planned on writing this post to be all about “work words” as a follow-up piece to an earlier Kissmetrics post that kicked off this discussion. I thought it would be a great idea to have a list of “work words” for product marketers to avoid in their CTAs.

I wondered whether the word “workflow” right in the middle of the CTA might make Zapier–which is mind-blowingly easy to use–seem more complicated than it is.

Sean Kennedy (of Zapier and Really Good Emails) also wondered whether the word “Build” could also suggest that there may be “some assembly required” in getting your first Zaps set up.

But it wasn’t long after I started researching and writing this article that I realized a piece on “work words” in CTAs wouldn’t be enough. So much of the “hidden work” in SaaS apps happens before the CTA–which mean that’s where the biggest opportunities to improve engagement are hiding.

While you can and should use language in your CTAs that doesn’t suggest work, that’s only a starting point.

To keep your new users engaged, your onboarding email copy must answer your reader’s questions about where, how, and why they should do what you’re asking them to do.

About the Author: Alli Blum helps SaaS apps build messages that get customers. Want to make sure your emails don’t create hidden work for your prospects? Click to get her copywriting checklist for high-converting SaaS onboarding emails.


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The ‘Pulp Fiction’ Technique for Engaging and Persuasive Content

"Pulp Fiction expertly uses a common writing technique that grabs attention right from the beginning, and magnetically holds it." – Brian Clark

You’ve seen Pulp Fiction, right? It’s the classic 1994 black comedy crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The film is highly stylized, presented out of chronological order, and filled with eclectic dialogue that reveals each character’s perspectives on various subjects. And yes, it’s profane and violent.

Pulp Fiction was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Tarantino and his co-writer Roger Avary won for Best Original Screenplay, which is truly the foundation of an exceptional film.

Despite the groundbreaking inventiveness, Pulp Fiction also expertly uses a common writing technique that grabs attention right from the beginning, and magnetically holds that attention through a form of psychological tension generated by our short-term memories.

This simple strategy is something you can use in your marketing content, your sales copy, and your live presentations. You’ll not only increase engagement, but also add enhanced credibility to the persuasive point you’re trying to make.

Opening the loop

Back during the aftermath of the tragic effects of Hurricane Katrina, I came across an interesting article about some less-than-inspiring aspects of the devastating storm. It began with this:

“An Illinois woman mourns her two young daughters, swept to their deaths in Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. It’s a tragic and terrifying story. It’s also a lie.”

Now, any article that details accounts of fraud in the aftermath of Katrina would contain compelling information. But that opening had me riveted, and it got me reading what ended up being a detailed and lengthy piece that I might have otherwise skipped.

The article went on for 1,136 words before explaining that opening statement. It finally came as the initial bullet point in a list of false claims for relief after Katrina.

This type of opening with a delayed resolution is called an open loop, and it works for just about any type of content or copy. No matter the medium, you always want to grab attention quickly and hold it while you provide the surrounding facts, lessons, or supporting evidence.

The information is the same, but the level of attention and even fascination on the reader’s part is greatly heightened by the structure, leading to better retention and potential for persuasion.

Bond … James Bond

Open loops are used all the time in the movies. Think about James Bond, dangling over a vat of sharks.

While the villain monologues, Bond saves himself by cutting away the ropes with the buzzsaw hidden in his Rolex Submariner watch. Why do we accept, much less embrace, this ridiculous resolution?

It’s because the buzzsaw feature of the watch was introduced to us earlier thanks to the new technology presentation from Q that happens in every Bond movie. The implausible becomes credible thanks to the setup earlier in the film.

These setups create open loops that will keep your audience itching to find out what happens in the end — a need-to-know phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect by psychologists.

In a nutshell, the Zeigarnik Effect means that we hold things in our short-term memories that lack closure. For example, waiters can easily remember the orders of each of the tables they’re serving — until the food comes out that is, at which point retention and recall diminishes greatly.

So, when you use the setup and payoff structure of the open loop, your audience is driven to keep going with you. And that’s what you want, right?

Think about cliffhanger endings, where a loop is opened without being closed. Not only do you want to know what happens, you remember to tune in next time.

The setup and subsequent payoff of an open loop is incredibly satisfying. And that’s why open loops are also powerful persuasion vehicles, because we embrace the payoff in a way we wouldn’t without the setup and time-lapse in between.

Think back to the James Bond example; the open loop made an implausible escape perfectly acceptable. As we’ll see in the next example, it can also make a commercial claim more credible, and even prompt the holy grail of direct response copywritingaction.

Loops that move people to act

So, how can you use an open loop in your copy to not only persuade, but also prompt action? Take a look at the copy for this radio ad written by Roy Williams for a diamond merchant called Justice Jewelers:

“Antwerp, Belgium, is no longer the diamond capital of the world.

Thirty-four hours on an airplane. One way. Thirty. Four. Hours. That’s how long it took me to get to where 80 percent of the world’s diamonds are now being cut. After 34 hours, I looked bad. I smelled bad. I wanted to go to sleep. But then I saw the diamonds.

Unbelievable. They told me I was the first retailer from North America ever to be in that office.

Only the biggest wholesalers are allowed through those doors. Fortunately, I had one of ’em with me, a lifelong friend who was doing me a favor.

Now pay attention, because what I’m about to say is really important: As of this moment, Justice Jewelers has the lowest diamond prices in America, and I’m including all the online diamond sellers in that statement.

Now you and I both know that talk is cheap. So put it to the test. Go online. Find your best deal. Not only will Justice Jewelers give you a better diamond, we’ll give you a better price, as well.

I’m Woody Justice, and I’m working really, really hard to be your jeweler. Thirty-four hours of hard travel, one way. I think you’ll be glad I did it.”

Okay, so the ad starts off by setting up an open loop. If Antwerp is no longer the diamond cutting capital of the world, which city is the new one?

But here’s the thing … we’re never told the city, or even exactly how low the prices are. To do that, you need to take action by heading over to the Justice Jewelers website, combined with a challenge to find lower prices anywhere else online.

Less artful ads would lead with the claim of the lowest prices thanks to an exclusive source of diamonds. Skepticism would naturally abound.

Here, the storytelling setup is incredibly engaging, even if you’re not in the market for diamonds. If you are in the market, the lingering open loop means the listener is more likely to retain, recall, and act on the information.

Can you see how this might work on a landing page aimed at getting an email opt-in? You open the loop, and the only way the visitor can close it is to sign up for the lead magnet.

That’s just one example of the many uses of open loops. As I mentioned earlier, you can incorporate open loops in your marketing content, your sales copy, and your live presentations, all making you inherently more engaging and persuasive.

And speaking of earlier, what about Pulp Fiction?

Pumpkin and Honey Bunny

So I saw Pulp Fiction on opening night back in 1994, and oh man … that first scene. I’ve never before or since experienced a theater full of people bursting into applause after the opening of a film.

As a refresher, Pulp Fiction begins with a man and a woman sitting together in a diner. The two are known only by the pet names they call each other — Pumpkin and Honey Bunny.

They’re discussing the relative dangers of robbing various places, revealing that the two are criminals. They’ve been holding up liquor stores, which Pumpkin thinks is too dangerous and will eventually result in them or someone else getting killed.

After sharing a story about a man who robs a bank with a telephone, Pumpkin proposes that they start robbing diners. In fact, he suggests that they rob the diner they’re in, right now.

Up to this point, Honey Bunny has been nothing but sweetness and light. She suddenly jumps up with a gun and shouts some particularly shocking threats to the patrons. Cut to Dick Dale’s iconic rendition of “Misirlou” and the opening credits.

Now, the rest of the film proceeds. Some of what follows actually occurs before the opening scene, and some occurs after, but don’t worry about that right now.

The point is, much of the rest of the film plays out without returning to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. Even though the film is riveting, in the back of your mind you’re thinking … what the hell was that about?

What happened to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny?

Finally, we arrive at the last scene of the film. It’s the same diner from the opening.

Turns out, this is where gangsters Jules and Vincent have decided to have breakfast after escaping The Bonnie Situation and disposing of a headless guy at Monster Joe’s Truck and Tow.

Cut to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, just as Honey Bunny leaps up with the gun and makes her threat. Ironically, in their bid for safer crime options, these two fools have picked the exact wrong diner to rob.

The scene plays out and the film ends, which closes the open loop. Incredibly satisfying.

So, in case there was any doubt, you can also use open loops when crafting tutorial content as well — because I just demonstrated one for you. The headline and opening of this article promise you an example from Pulp Fiction, but I didn’t actually close that loop until the very end.

  • Maybe you were wondering when I would get to it.
  • Maybe you knew I was demonstrating an open loop in my usual meta way.
  • Maybe (hopefully!) you got so caught up in the article that it was only nagging you somewhere in the back of your mind.

Anyway, do you use open loops in your content and copy? Let me know in the comments.

The post The ‘Pulp Fiction’ Technique for Engaging and Persuasive Content appeared first on Copyblogger.


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Mobile Marketing vs. In-Store Sales: Help! What’s the Correlation?

Today’s consumers research products on the go, using their smartphones to find and choose at which nearby business to make a purchase or eat a meal. Most visit the store they select on the same day. Yet most marketers can’t – or don’t – optimize their digital presence or measure the impact of their…

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The big SMX Advanced preview

Search Engine Land’s always sold-out SMX Advanced, the only search marketing conference designed exclusively for experienced search marketers, returns to Seattle June 12-14. Keep reading to find out what’s in store this year. Then register; fewer than 200 spots are left! New trends, new…

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